A few month ago there was an interesting Op Ed article in the New York Times called “Who Runs the Girls?”
Ashley Mears, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University, wrote the book, “Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model,” about the elite V.I P party scene—Miami in March, Cannes and St-Tropez in May and July and of course, weekends in the Hamptons in New York. She describes the scene as, “models and bottles,” run by men for men.
I love how she describes her physical appearance, “I was what they call a ‘good civilian’ —close enough in physique but not as valuable as a fashion model.” There is a lure, in being special enough to fit into this elite scene, as if they are promised something very grand. At the same time, the article paints a really grim reality of this “special” world.
Mears cites the similarity of the findings of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in which men exchanged women in order to forge alliances with other men while women were cut from the very value that their own circulation generated. I can relate– when I was younger I was not really networking; in reality, I was just eye candy, and let’s be honest, most of the men were not really taking me seriously. I would say to the women in the article who claim they are networking, “remember the purpose you are there for, you are there for mens’ entertainment.” I sometimes wonder if pretty girls could be easily replaced by a robot.
It is standard practice for women to feel like they need to dress up in provocative outfits, particularly in the entertainment fields. Male friends of mine in the film industry often assume that even if I am introducing a woman to them who is looking for a job, that she is according to him, “of course, cute,” as if their ability is directly related to their appearance. Women are led to believe that their appearance has power attached to them, as if being pretty is a talent.
I was reminded of an article I read in a course of mine where Two feminists academics, Peterson and Lamb had a disagreement in the journal Sex Roles, on whether teenager girls could be empowered by their sexuality. Lamb argued that sexual desire is not necessarily a sign of adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment. Peterson didn’t agree. They both came to the conclusion that it is difficult to argue one way or another when it is really hard to judge another person’s subjective experience. I think that is really valid point. Women and young girls can receive empowerment from their appearance and through negotiating sex, but the question that needs to be asked is—is that the most effective use of their skills or is there a more effective way young women can obtain self esteem and empowerment? Or perhaps it does not need to be one or the other.
The larger question that I have to ask is why do women willingly buy into this idea of using their sex appear to get ahead? Maybe, we as women think that if we willingly oblige, then we have some sort of power in the issue. Anyone interested in the issue should read Catherine Hakim’s book, “Erotic Capital. “ Hakim’s provocative book says that, “erotic capital“—is a combination of six qualities, including beauty, sex appeal, social grace, liveliness, social presentation, and sexual competence. Journalist Jessica Grose wrote in Slate, about the book and interviewed Hakim, who said, “the whole purpose of my book is to say, for men and for women, there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed of exploiting it and no reason at all for you to be embarrassed at saying this has value. ”
What are your thoughts about women and men being empowered by their sexual power and appearance?